Competition for pupillages is intense. More so every year. The application window under the Bar Council’s Pupillage Gateway scheme closes in the second week of February. Shortlisting and interviewing start soon after and offers of pupillage are made in May. The written application is key. It requires careful thought, substantial effort, considerable self-discipline, patience and a sizeable chunk of your time. What you write will determine whether you are invited to interview. What can you do to secure that invitation and enhance your prospects of success?

Leaving aside the complexities of the online application form – the Bar Council’s excellent Applicant User Guide and FAQs provide very useful assistance on technical aspects which you must adhere to – what are the hallmarks of a strong application? Where should you focus your time and effort? Nothing less than a well-structured, easy to read, informative and engaging application, clear, concise and well targeted document will suffice. As writer, you should always keep your reader(s) in mind. What are the priorities of the members of the pupillage panel or committee and what can you do to help them decide to favour you as a prospective pupil worthy of interview?

Where a formal structure is set, make sure you comply. There’s a reason for the structure and the selection committee has to be able to compare the strengths and relevant experience of candidates fairly.

Academic achievement is almost a given. That is unlikely to make you stand out from other applicants. Take full advantage of your other activities, achievements and experiences to show how they are relevant to your prospective career as a barrister. In doing so, you will also be giving the panel a sense of you as a person, your values, character and personality. The interview will enable you to develop these aspects further – but you have to get there first! Non-legal experience can illustrate abilities which panels are looking for: sound organisational skills; speedy acquisition of new knowledge; team building; ability to relate to others. Points you mention should be backed-up with evidence – a skill in itself which is important to barristers! What is the skill? How did you obtain it? How did you use it? How can it be applied at the Bar?

Research thoroughly each chambers you are applying to. Research itself is another essential skill for a pupil. Who are the members and clerks in chambers? How do their legal specialisms align with your own particular interests? What do they say on their website about pupillage? Check out the biogs of the most recently appointed tenants. Become knowledgeable about recently featured, notable cases. Knowledge gained will not only help you to be confident you are applying to the right ‘set(s)’ but will also be invaluable when it comes to interview. And don’t under-sell yourself. Your application is not a good place for self-deprecation. Nor can you expect the panel to make assumptions about what you might have written. All they will know about you is what you have put on the page. At the same time, remember that you may be questioned about anything you have written. So, prepare and be ready to justify your claims and to expand orally, when the time comes.

Be concise. Be clear. Use ordinary, everyday language. Stick to specified word counts and don’t be tempted to pad out an answer just to reach the maximum number of words applicable to the question. Check spelling, grammar and syntax. Use of language is critical. If you are not sure about correct use of the apostrophe, or whether it should be ‘practice’ or ‘practise’, take the trouble to sort that now. Panel members may be – and should be – linguistic pedants!  Proofread, then correct, amend, edit and proofread again. And don’t hesitate to ask someone else to have a read through too.

When all is done, take a deep breath, press ‘Submit’ – and start preparing for interview!

See also Counsel Magazine's Bar Student Guide